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Resistance Is Power: How I Fought For My Religious Freedom

He ran toward me and pounded my shoulders with his fists. He slapped, kicked and yelled at me. “What is your problem?” he screamed. “You have to leave that church!”

This was my father, physically assaulting me. Intense pain transcended my physical body to my spirit, back to my body and my spirit again. I ran to my bedroom and sat on the bed, angry tears rushing from my eyes.

Two paternal uncles and aunts followed me into my room, with my father close on their heels. Their voices rang in my ears like a chorus, singing a song I’d been hearing for months. They shut the door behind them and continued shouting at me. I sat on my bed in silence, like someone who has forgotten how to talk. Tears continued to pour from my eyes as if a faucet was left on.

They were violent, adamant, uncompromising. I was to abide by their commands or there will be war. Their individual sermons all culminated into one statement:

“You will worship where we want, not where you want!”

Allowing people worship where they want is an issue that has been given some attention in my country. Cameroon hosted the International Religious Liberty Association annual congress that ran from August 7th-10th 2013 in the nation’s capital, Yaounde. The conference stressed the need for religious intolerance to be eliminated. The president was represented by the Prime Minister, Philemon Yang, which shows that more eyebrows are being raised on the issue.

The International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 presented by the U.S department of state describes how human beings’ fundamental right to religious freedom was challenged in many ways in 2012. The report documents that members of various religious minorities were attacked by fellow citizens in various countries in the world.

Although Cameroon is not mentioned, I experienced such an attack because I chose to attend an unpopular church. The three heavily attended churches in Cameroon are the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Baptist. Most of the Cameroonian populace sees any denomination outside of the trio to be a “sect.”

My personal struggle for religious freedom dates back to 2004 when as an undergraduate, I chose to leave the Presbyterian Church where my parents still worshipped, and attend Word Eternity Ministries International. I feared the reaction of my parents. However, I knew this decision was right for me. My family’s church no longer fed my spirit. I was hungry for more. This hunger kept me searching and finally led me to a new religious experience.

As expected, a tug of war ensued when my parents discovered that I swapped their denomination for this more charismatic one. I was made to spend hours on my feet listening to them deliver sermons to me on why the church was not the best for me, blah blah blah. I did not change my mind.

My father threatened to disown me and indeed followed through on this more than once. I held on to my faith. He called me a thorn in his flesh. My mum said my new church was a place for frustrated people. On this fateful day, my parents were determined to force me to abide to their choice. So they invited extended family members to strengthen their command. After much talking, I refused to succumb.

Finally, one aunt grabbed a wrapper that was lying on a small couch by me and tied it on her waist. In Cameroon, when a woman does that, it means she is ready to fight. They promised to rain fire and brimstone on my chosen church. When they rushed out I sat there wondering what they could be up to, playing imaginary scenes in my head of the showdown in church.

My struggle resembles that of many women in Cameroon who choose to worship differently than their families. According to a paper presented to the International Conference on Population in 2009, violence against women and girls remains widespread in Cameroon and Central African Region despite the many national and international efforts to stop them.

Women’s freedom of worship is seldom discussed, and it is time for that to change.

The preamble of the Constitution of Cameroon states that, “human beings, without distinction of race, religion, belief, possess inalienable and sacred rights.” Yet women are denied such rights when it comes to religion.

Deprivation of my own basic rights along with the pressure leave my chosen church, took its toll on me. When I did attend my church, I shivered all the way home at the imminent wrath of my parents. Home was no longer home. It had become a sort of hell.

So I did something that shocked everyone, considering the shy and reserved person I was. I left my parents’ home, without telling anyone my destination. I needed to find myself. It was this unexpected journey that knocked some sense into my father’s head. He phoned and begged me to return home. He promised to allow me to worship where I will.

My father’s call prompted me to return home. Still I was allowed no peace. My mother thought a spell had been cast on me. She could not understand why I felt so adamant about attending this different church. So she took me to see her pastors twice for counseling. The men tried to convince me but I refused to be swayed.

Why did I have to struggle so hard for freedom to worship as I pleased? Because I am a woman and my parents thought I could be easily twisted to obey them.

The International Women’s Rights Action Watch report, submitted in May 1999 on the status of women in Cameroon, reveals that, “the unequal status of women and girls in Cameroon manifests itself in all spheres of life.”

I have seen my two younger brothers make decisions my parents did not approve of too. Yet they have never faced the kind of opposition I received.

The huge proliferation of churches in Cameroon recently prompted the government to shut down any churches that lack legal authorization to operate. The Cameroonian government recognizes the existence of 47 churches. However, about 300 churches are reported to be in existence.

Ministers of these smaller churches say they have solicited for authorization from the government but the delay seems unending.

Pastor Sylvia Kien of Christ Embassy, Kumba, Cameroon says the head minister of her church has compiled every needed document to obtain a license. The documents have been pushed on to a point where just the president’s signature is needed for the church to operate legally. Yet no authorization has been given.

Unauthorized churches are new, strange, and considered unwanted. Most parents or spouses to think their daughters or wives are making a fatal mistake when they worship in certain churches. I remember how my mother always made a mockery of my church whenever I mentioned the name.

As to why women are the most suppressed when it comes to freedom of worship, Pastor Kien notes that “A woman will always have a head over her. Female brethren are either under their parents or under their husbands. Men do not answer to anyone but the woman answers to somebody”

This is the prevailing opinion in Cameroon where a woman is believed to be under the man. Although a grown-up woman, I was still under my parents and I had to abide by their decisions.

The clergy woman tells me that she has faced her own bouts of disapproval as a female pastor in a society where the clergy is dominated by men.

“There are those who have come to church for the first time and on discovering that the pastor is a lady, they never came back,” she says. “However, some after they have being in church and have grown testify that they never believed they could experience such growth under a female Pastor.”

Pastor James Isayode of the Redeemed Christian Church of God notes that he has seen uncountable cases in which female church members are persecuted.

“I remember one woman who got married. Before her marriage, she was born again. After the wedding, her husband stopped her from coming to church. Before then he had told her she could go to her church but after the wedding, he changed his mind,” he recalls.

Pastor James was eager to narrate the most recent case of religious battle he witnessed. “A sister invited another woman to church. When this woman came to church, the sister who invited her noticed that she did not have enough presentable clothes to wear,” he says. “So she gifted her some of her used clothes. When the woman’s husband discovered that she now had new clothes, he became suspicious and angry. He mobilized people and the woman that took his wife to church and other church members were beaten”

These stories are just two examples of what pastors of Pentecostal churches go through in this part of the world. My own pastor was physically threatened by my family.

Women in many parts of the word routinely suffer psychological and physical attacks when they challenge their family’s religious beliefs by choosing to worship at a different church.

A report submitted to the United Nations Economic and Social Council in April 2009 sums it up; “Compatibility between certain individual rights, including freedom to practice a religion or faith or to observe rites, and women’s fundamental rights as universal rights poses a major problem.”

Although laws have been enacted to end this type of injustice, it persists in everyday life in my country and many others. The Cameroon law has a special section called the Law of Freedom of Association which states that people can create associations, including churches as they will.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in article 18 lists freedom of religion as a fundamental human right. It even explains the freedom to discontinue membership in a religion or religious group as an important part of religious freedom.

Yet women and girls still suffer a lot of oppression when they choose to worship in churches their parents or spouses do not approve of.

Women, know your rights! If you do not know your rights, you will be trampled upon again and again.

We must stand together and demand that the government make it easier for new churches to acquire a license.

We stand for what we believe in, even in the face of family disagreement. If I did not stand for my faith, my life would have taken a completely different course and I would not even have the opportunity to be writing this today. It is important to stand firm, no matter the hostility of parents and spouses.

Freedom of worship is just one of the many areas in which women are oppressed in Cameroon. Men want to dictate everything: What women should wear, where they should go, how they should use their time, what they should believe in, how they should spend their money, the list is endless. It is time to challenge these stereotypes as this will be a powerful contribution to the global women’s empowerment movement.

After battling for my spiritual convictions, my family has grown to love and accept me the way I am. If I did not fight, I would still be remote controlled by them on how to live. Winning the battle has helped me gain autonomy as a woman.

As I pen off, I recall Pamela, a fellow sister at my student fellowship whose parents disowned her because of her faith. She had no school fees but she stood firm. I remember Christine who faced constant violence due to her faith. Yet she did not give up.

Fighting for your rights pays off. It can turn vulnerability into freedom.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

Monica09's picture

So true

Dear Precious,

Your courage is praiseworthy! I am glad you are channeling your hurt feelings to advocate for a noble cause: religious freedom.

One paragraph that struck a chord with me is the following:

|| As to why women are the most suppressed when it comes to freedom of worship, Pastor Kien notes that “A woman will always have a head over her. Female brethren are either under their parents or under their husbands. Men do not answer to anyone but the woman answers to somebody” ||

This is a point I have mentioned in my assignment too. I do not understand why men and women cannot be viewed as complementing each other. This is the thought that creates a lot of inequity in the society.

I wish you all the best!

In solidarity,
Monica

Precious M's picture

Thanks Monica

Courage is what we need to move on in life.

Christianity and Islam see the woman as being under the man and this creates a lot of inequality because men take advantage of the situation. However, if the woman is weaker than the man as believed, then the man should love, cherish and pamper her. She should not be maltreated.

Thank you for reading and dropping these kind words.

Peace,
Precious

My pen speaks

Y's picture

We have a saying, "When in

We have a saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." I told my children, "The one that pays the bills makes the rules."

I believe that women are feared because they are bonded to their children in such a way that the children long to follow their mothers rather than the rules of their fathers and societies. This is a power that cannot be bought or sold.

Women must learn to financially support themselves without father, mother, brother, husband or in-laws before they will be empowered to make their own decisions and live by them.

My (now-deceased) mother never did stop telling my children and our shared family that I was damned because I had walked away from the religion of my parents. I was shunned by many "good christians" for living by my beliefs, which they did not understand. The only choice I had was to live isolated from many.

I supported myself and children with skills that I had learned from watching my older relatives. I earned my living serving male bosses and customers, rather than my family and their clergy.

I have made peace with my own spirit, but still make others uncomfortable because I subscribe to no creed. I traded much for my religious freedom. We have another saying from a song sung by Janis Joplin, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." I am free, and I am lonely in this freedom.

Food for thought.

Y

Precious M's picture

Hmm Y

I can see you have had such a struggle yourself.
It is good to hear that you had freedom at last!

Blessings,
Precious

My pen speaks

Y's picture

I have great hopes that the

I have great hopes that the sharing on this website will fill the lonely spaces and encourage those who share the same and similar struggles. There are real prices to be paid for all our actions. So many of my fellow females refuse to look at the pain we endured to get where we are today. We must never forget the price paid for any freedom; otherwise, it is too easy to take these freedoms for granted and to allow others to take us backward on the path of justice and peace. I pray that the hard-won peace you have with your family goes forward for many years and many generations.

Blessings to you, Precious.
Yvette

Y

Precious M's picture

Exactly!

Y,
You have said something very important. Forgetting the price we paid for our freedom makes us take the freedom for granted. Your words have moved me. Thank you!

Love,
Precious

My pen speaks

bitani's picture

strong

You are a very strong woman Precious. I salut you for your courage!

Precious M's picture

Thanks Bitani

Sometimes it is when we are in a war zone that we realize how much we can fight.

Thank you for reading!

My pen speaks

Yosra Akasha's picture

I salute your fight for your

I salute your fight for your personal choices. Women perceived to be following their male dominants, when they try to find their own way and violates the patriarchal control over their body and soul they got punished. I'm glad you never stepped back.

Yosra Akasha, Sudan

Precious M's picture

We must fight

Yosra,

One woman's fight can inspire others and change a lot of things. So we must fight!
Thank you sister!

Precious

My pen speaks

Ayunnie's picture

Freedom denied

Hi Precious,
How sad it is to be denied your right of worshiping. I salute your courage for standing with what you believe in. You are a strong women and definitely a change agent. Keep up the good work!

@ Nairobi KENYA
Women have impeccable character, if tapped society realizes quantum leap in development

Precious M's picture

Power

How sad indeed!
Thanks dear.
And yes, if society taps from the impeccable character of women there will be a quantum leap in development!

Precious

My pen speaks

Hi Precious,

I loved your article. I mean, it has it all, courage, strength, new ideas and turns in the road that are well thought out as well as hope for all women to emulate you and the path you have chosen to take. I love that you explain the "why" of what you did. Your courage gives others the strength to be courageous. I like what Ayunnie says about your being a "change agent" because you have the potential to be just that.

Thank you.

Ubuntu(I am who I am because of who we are together),

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Precious M's picture

Change agent

My sister,

I am glad that just like Ayunnie, you see me as a change agent.
I hope to keep inspiring change as long as I live!

Love,
Precious

My pen speaks

Wendyiscalm's picture

And you will

And you WILL Precious.

Ubuntu,

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Precious M's picture

Thanks for the confidence

Sister,
Your words give me the courage to move on.
Thank you!

Precious

My pen speaks

Nadz's picture

You are so strong

You show amazing strength and courage. I am impressed by your conviction and just how incredibly brave you are. Keep on keeping the faith. Your story will inspire and give strength to so many. Keep the courage my sister.

Life is just for living

Precious M's picture

I'll live it

Part of living life is being able to stand for what you believe in. It really helps a lot.
I will keep the courage, sister.

Precious

My pen speaks

Nechesa's picture

You go girl!!!

What an amazing article! I'm sooo happy you chose to cover it. I caught myself saying "Yes!" out loud while reading it. After completing my article, I have a new found appreciation for articles that explain all the different angles of an issue. I can see your hard work in it and I'm so thankful you shared your own experiences.

You're an agent of change, my friend.

Nechesa

Precious M's picture

Real hard work!

It has been really challenging to put together Module 2. I am happy we finally made it through. It is encouraging to know how my article moved you.

Thank you for your kind words, sister.

Precious

My pen speaks

pelamutunzi's picture

you are strong

you are strong and im glad you eventually got a chance to worship as you pleased. hoping for more success stories like this.

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.
regards
pela

Precious M's picture

Turning point

My dear,

That one firm decision I took was a turning point in my life.
I hope for more success stories too.

Regards,
Precious

My pen speaks

Iryna's picture

Let's speak and change

You are right, Precious, main religions put women on the lower level than a men, even, for example, in the Bible, there is no any place where is taught that a woman is worse than a man. Time to time I meet men, very religious, who really believe that women must serve men! This is ridiculous! We have equal rights.
You are very strong, Precious, and your story is a prove. Unfortunately, not every woman is ready to do the same. But I am sure if we will speak about it with the time the situation will change.
Very alive article, intersting and proving!
Greetings from Ukraine,
Iryna

Precious M's picture

Equal Rights

My sister,

Unfortunately, men who quote the Bible claim that the Bible allows them suppress women. But that is false because the Bible rather admonishes men To love their wives like their own bodies. If men obey this command there will be no form of violence whatsoever.

We need to keep speaking so that women who lack courage can become courageous.

Thank you Iryna!

Precious,
With love from Cameroon

My pen speaks

anab87j9's picture

Women’s freedom of worship is

Women’s freedom of worship is seldom discussed, and it is time for that to change. I agree and I add my voice to yours.
I got your back my dear sister!

Much love and big hugs,

Anab

Maura Bogue's picture

Great piece

This article sheds light on the different hardships women in Cameroon go through, and you excel in showing how hard it is when one's religious beliefs are not accepted. Maybe you could argue a little more why you think women's challenges connected to religious beliefs are not discussed as often as other topics connected to violence against women.

Precious M's picture

I am learning, Maura

Thanks Maura for your words. Each time I write an article and you comment, I learn something new. I did not think of that angle. Thanks for helping me grow.

Precious

My pen speaks

Sherry L's picture

Freedom to Be

Precious,
Thanks for sharing your story and addressing the challenging topic of religious freedom for women. Pastor Kien's quote about a woman always having a head over her reminded me of explanations I heard when I was in India related to the oppression of women. I look forward to the dawn of "power with" rather than "power over."
Keep speaking your truth and acting on it,
Sherry

Sherry Helmke
www.newviewnow.com

Precious M's picture

Power with

Yes, women should not be treated like lesser human beings.
Thanks for reading and commenting.

Love,
Precious

My pen speaks

Sarah.Happel's picture

Your courage is amazing

Precious,

This is an amazing piece. It must have taken extraordinary courage for you to share such a personal and painful piece. I appreciate this personal glimpse into life as a woman in Cameroon daring to swim against the current.

Kudos to your strength and persistence. What a gift to your family, to gain a new way of looking at you, a strong, independent woman with many gifts to share.

Congratulations on a wonderfully written piece: gripping and educational, inspirational and empowering.

Sarah Happel, Principal
Intercultural Training & Leadership Coaching
www.SpectrumSolutions.eu

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